To your baby, you’re an endless supply of the best hugs in the world. You’re always there to scoop them into your arms and hold them tight, whether they’re sad, hurt, crying or just want to cuddle. Your warm embrace makes them feel better instantly, a powerful effect backed by research.
But did you know baby hugs are magical for mamas, too?
Researchers have found that hugs have a positive impact on a mother’s emotional health, especially after childbirth. A 2001 study published in MCN: The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing found that skin-to-skin contact, also known as kangaroo care, can minimize and even help prevent postpartum depression, which affects about 600,000 women each year in the United States.
The same study found that kangaroo care, which includes hugging, can reduce maternal anxiety and promote secure attachment between mama and baby.
But hugging doesn’t only improve a mother’s mood. Speaking to Scientific American, Ann Bigelow, a developmental psychology professor and researcher at St. Francis Xavier University, suggests that hugging can change how they engage as a parent.
“They seem to be able to be more sensitive to their baby’s cues and the babies are more responsive to the mother through the whole first three months,” Bigelow says. “They’re recognizing their mother earlier, so the relationship between the mother and baby is off to a facilitated start.”
Why are baby hugs so magical? Thank the chemicals in your brain.
Research shows that the physical act of hugging or holding hands can help people feel less stressed. That’s because your levels of cortisol—the hormone that controls stress—take a nosedive when you’re being touched in a friendly way.
A 2015 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science also found that hugging your baby can increase the release of oxytocin—a.k.a. the “cuddle hormone”—which helps bring people closer together.
Speaking to NPR, Matt Hertenstein, an experimental psychologist at DePauw University, says, “Oxytocin is a neuropeptide, which basically promotes feelings of devotion, trust and bonding. It really lays the biological foundation and structure for connecting to other people.”
In other words: Hugging improves your bond with your baby.
Of course, mamas aren’t the only ones to benefit from a baby hug. After all, past studies have shown that hugging your child can improve their mental, emotional and physical well-being. A hug helps boost your baby’s brain development, strengthen their immune system, teach them to regulate their emotions and encourage positive self-esteem.
Now go wrap that little one in your arms. You’ll both be better for it.